Saturday, October 27, 2012

Another trip around the sun

Today is my birthday. I love birthdays, mine and others. I think they offer us a wonderful (albeit arbitrary) reminder that our lives our fleeting, our connections precious, the world extraordinary and our selves unique. They give us an excuse to celebrate our existence.

As I have in past years (you can look at other Octobers) I'd like to offer you things I know or am grateful for, one for each year of my life. Really, these are things I need to remind myself of on a regular basis.

This is also my fifth birthday post, the fifth birthday of this blog. So happy birthday, world, thank you for reading me for five years. It's nice to be in kindergarten with you.
  1. You. Whether I know you or not, thank you for being in this world, for your breath, your story, your kindnesses and your song.
  2. Assume kindness first. Both in yourself and others. Yes, you risk being hurt, but you may also be wondrously surprised. I once heard amazing stories from a man who stole $200 from me. Looking back it was worth it. He probably needed the money more than I did, and I know I needed those tales.
  3. I am grateful for those times when I remember to be kind to myself.
  4. So please, be kind to your self.
  5. I am grateful for the natural world, for its beauty and power and the fact that we still have yet to entirely rule it. 
  6. Everyone, humans included, needs something bigger than themselves, be it god(s), storms, science or love. Be grateful for these reminders especially when you emerge from them altered but unscathed. I may change my mind about this, based on the coming storm, but to date I have found this to be true. 
  7. And if those big things do scathe you then ask yourself why, how, what you might do differently next time.
  8. Be like the palm. Bend in the wind before you break. Be resilient.
  9. I am grateful for good food shared with those I love. 
  10. Conversation.
  11. Oh, I love listening to the world around me. To stories, to strangers, to random sounds. Listen more.
  12. Take time alone. We each have different needs for alone time, but we all need it. I love alone time. 
  13. I love alone time in part because it makes me that much more grateful for shared time.
  14. Work hard at whatever you're doing, even if it's a task you'd rather avoid. If nothing else, you'll end it sooner. But don't be half-assed.
  15. Play. I am so grateful for play, for my inner five year old who sees the world as full of wonder and giggles and still believes in the tooth fairy. 
  16. Be a good loser.
  17. Be a better winner.
  18. Feel your feelings. I am grateful to them all and have found the hard ones are easier if I let myself feel them.
  19. I am grateful for the mistakes I have made. And moreso for the times when I have learned from them.
  20. Read. I love reading and sometimes let other things get in the way. Let written language take you away.  If you usually read fiction try some non-fiction. And if non-fiction is your love, try something fantastical.
  21. Tell more stories. Listen to more. Make music, even if you don't sing well. And listen to more music, especially music outside your comfort zone.
  22. Accept love. I am so grateful for all the people who have loved me.
  23. And accept like! Being liked is distinct from being loved, so thank you!
  24. Be likable.
  25. But don't be afraid to be unlikable if you have something to stand up for. A wise woman once said to me I think a day when I haven't pissed someone off just wasn't a very a good day. She's right. Care about the world. Care about what you do. Care about yourself. Don't be afraid to piss someone off.
  26. Stop for pedestrians. Even if they aren't in the crosswalk.
  27. Learn to stop in general. I am grateful for my intermittent meditation practice. Find a way to stop and let the world move around you.
  28. I am grateful you've made it this far! It's a long list and getting longer each year.
  29. I am grateful to those who have gone before me. Thank you for your work, sacrifice, love, humor, determination.
  30. I am grateful to those who will come after me. I can't wait to see what you will make of the world and, knowing I won't be here, excited to think that you will see more than I ever will.
  31. Take time to notice your other senses. Smell the air. Touch things (even if you get into trouble sometimes, say, in museums). Close your eyes and listen. Really look at one thing. Taste with abandon. Be a sensualist.
  32. I am grateful for people doing the best they can, even when it may not be enough.
  33. And in turn, do the best you can, even if it's only a little bit.
  34. I love bad jokes. If you know any, I'd love to hear them!
  35. By the time I was 35, I was 9 years cancer free. I am so grateful that it hasn't come back.
  36. I am grateful for my body. Even with its aches and pains, I am grateful for my joints, my muscles and organs, my ligaments and skin, every part.
  37. Don't be afraid to be foolish. I never would have become a storyteller if I was afraid of being foolish sometimes.
  38. Let the people you love know. Don't wait.
  39. Don't lie about your age. Embrace each of your years as earned.
  40. Learn new things, regardless of your age. I have a friend, near 90, who has fallen in love with the band Queen.
  41. Recognize that there will be things that confuse and frustrate you, especially about other people. You can't change them. Accept that this is the way it is and try to at least be amused.
  42. Don't be afraid to touch people when you hug them. So do it, hug more.
  43. Love yourself.
  44. Love the world.
  45. Do it again.
Thanks for coming along on this ride with me.

p.s. This is me giving my Uncle Meyer a kiss when I was maybe 4. He died over a decade ago. I still love him and I'm so glad he knew how much I loved him.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, October 26, 2012

Celebration countdown day 9: a love note

As you know, I've been counting down to my birthday with things I love, in the hopes that it might inspire us all to love the world more. I've missed a few days, but that's okay.

Well, tomorrow is my birthday. Over the last few days I've covered:
Really, these are all love notes to being alive. 

There are so many other things I could list. Dim sum, The Beatles, massage, dancing even when you suck at it, storytelling, eavesdropping, apples, the ocean, the feel and sound and smell of rain, the crunch of snow, so many people, laughing until my stomach hurts and and and...

The world is vast and possible. Our lives are what we make of them.

Love the world. Love yourself. Thrive as best you can. And happy birthday to us all, because really, every day is our birthday, a new day of life in this world.

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Celebration countdown day 8: Adagio for strings

I'm sorry I didn't post yesterday. I had a gig and things got a little hairy.

Today's birthday gift to the world is this, one of those pieces of music that moves me outside of myself and helps me in every way. It reminds me that this moment is but a moment, that this feeling will change, that I can soar and dream and grieve and be fully human.

Please take a listen to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, opus 11.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, October 22, 2012

Celebration count down day 7: Being the fox

I love this poem. Be the fox.


by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything made.
Be afraid to know you neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand.
Praise ignorance,
for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion--put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go.

Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Celebration count down day 6: the smell of autumn

When I was a little girl my favorite season was autumn. I think mostly this was because my birthday is in autumn (as you know, from this series of celebration posts) but I have come to love autumn independent of my personal association.

While I could list all kinds of things I love about autumn (the colors, the sweet melancholy, Halloween) it is the smell I most associate with autumn and find most fleeting. Like autumn itself.

That sweet aroma of leaf decay. The tang of woodsmoke. The crispness of the air. All of this smells like the passage of time to me. It is this smell that I imagine inhabiting the realm of fairy tales. It is this smell that I think of when I imagine my childhood and when I think of wandering towards death.

I love this smell. And I love that it is here only for maybe six weeks each year. Go outside. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the moment while it's here.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Celebration count down day 5: Fairy Tales

As you know, I'm celebrating my birthday by sharing things I love. So far, you can hear a poem, consider time, get the chills and admire the sunset.

Today I wanted to talk about fairy tales. I've written about them before, about their meaning, use, power and how to tell them, but I've not really discussed why I love them so. And I do. My life has been shaped by fairy tales (which isn't to imply it is a fairy tale).

When I was a child my parents would tell me stories every day. They read to me, sure, but they also would lie down with me in the dark and spin stories out of the air. No wonder I'm a storyteller. My father would make up stories, often thrilling tales or spooky adventures, while my mother would tell me folk and fairy tales. Among the stories she told were Grimm's tales, including One Eye, Two Eyes and Three Eyes, a Cinderella variant that she learned from her mother who learned it from her mother and so on. It's a secret thrill that I know some of the Grimm's stories, learned not from books but directly from the oral tradition.

I told these stories to my friends. I loved them so much that I went on to obtain my degree in Folklore and Mythology, writing my honor's thesis on the female hero in Western European folktale. And 20 years ago I started telling stories as a performing artist beginning with fairy tales. One of the first fairy tales I told was One Eye, Two Eyes and Three Eyes. And then I told East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a Beauty and the Beast variant that I fell in love with as a little girl. The heroine is wily, clever, determined and unafraid. After all, she rides away on a bear whom she loves for his own fierceness as well as his hidden human side.

And that's why I love fairy tales. They are fierce and human and basic explorations of our nature. When we hear or read a fairy tale we not only are learning something about what it is to be human, something about what we need to survive, we are giving ourselves permission to be more human. To be the wily heroine, the strong-hero, even the wicked villain. Because these stories (in their literary form) are stripped of modern emotion and explanation, we have moe white space within which to place our selves. They are basic, stories of how to survive in the wide world and why the wide world needs exploring.

What's more, fairy tales give us permission to believe that magic just might exist. That if we are daring and strong and smart and not afraid to call a pin a sword - or even just really lucky - the world will open to us. They encourage us to believe in bigger things and strive to be heroes in our own stories.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, October 19, 2012

Celebration count down day 4: Sunset

I'm sharing things I love, to celebrate my birthday. I started here. Some are sublime, some silly.

I know, it sounds trite, but I love evening. It's really that I love transitional times. It certainly can be argued that every moment is a transitional moment - it's not as though time moves any differently at noon than it does at 6:40 - but when the world is on the cusp, that movement is more obvious.

I love these times because it's when I notice the moment of the earth. It's when I notice our position in the solar system, in the galaxy, in the universe. It gives me an opportunity to be awake, to pause, to consider with delight my smallness in the face of things.

I have never found this to be diminishing, but an affirmation of this life, this moment, this possibility. And sunset often reminds me to stop and simply be in this life, this moment, this possibility. It's a daily opportunity to remember my place in the family of things.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Celebration count down day 3: Hammer Horror Films

In celebration of my upcoming birthday, I'm pretending I'm a hobbit and giving gifts to my friends. I'm sharing things I love with you. Go back a few days to hear a poem and consider time.

Today I'm going all out, revealing myself to the world as a lover of slow, methodical, overly dramatic horror movies from the 1950s and 60s. I love Hammer Horror films.

Hammer Horror was founded in the 1930s, but really hit their stride in the 50s and 60s when they produced dozens of gothic horror films with the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The women were always buxom, the villains evil with a touch of dark sexiness. As a child I would stay up late with my friend Carla, glued to the tv as we watched Dracula seduce beautiful women (I would hide my eyes when he bit, Carla would tell me to pretend it was a love story) or shuddered as plague overtook a village, turning everyone into monsters. It was wonderful, delicious, campy horror.

The pacing of these films could be called methodical. Rather than being driven by dialogue, the scripts relied on the actors' facial expressions and the melodramatic soundtracks. Some might call them ponderous. I love them. I love the way the story spools out to inexorable doom. I also love the costuming and set decoration. I don't know what life was really like in the Victorian era, but I'm certain it was full of red velvet and handlebar mustaches.

Hammer Horror now has a wonderful YouTube channel, where you can see full length movies., classics like Captain Chronos, Vampire Hunter and X the Unknown. I thought you might enjoy this trailer for The Devil's Bride. I especially like Christopher Lee's naughty little goatee.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Celebration count down day 2: Time

 I decided to give the world some birthday presents leading up to my birthday. Yesterday I gave you Lucille Clifton.

Today I wanted to give you the gift of the passage of time. It seemed fitting since this set of posts is about birthdays, the turn of the year.

I struggle with time, I think most of us do. There's too little of it, where did it go, I can't believe it. It can be hard. What's more, time seems utterly inexorable and unforgiving. And if you start to delve into the theories of it, well, that could take all the time in the world.

But time is a gift. It means that no matter where we are in our lives, things will change. No matter your grief, your pain, your sorrow, it will alter. Equally, it means that no matter your joy, your delight, your pleasure, that too, is mutable. Time is the great equalizer, reminding us all that each moment is precious. And we get to choose how we spend the time of our lives.

I fail to do this every day. But when I remember, when I choose, it makes all the difference. My daily commute, stuck in traffic and cursing other drivers, becomes instead a chance to muse, a chance to consider how the roadway is different today from yesterday. My frustrations with the everyday routine instead each become opportunities to greet them differently. My loves become more precious.

You can do this, too. Time is a gift. It helps us remember that while we are finite, we are capable of wonders in midst of the infinite.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Come celebrate with me

I love birthdays, mine and others'. My birthday is on the 27th and, in celebration of being alive in this glorious, confusing, thrilling, unsettling and exquisite world, I'd like to give you some birthday presents. Every day, between now and the day I turn 45 (45!? how did I get here?) I will post something I love that I'd like to share with you. I think the hobbits have the right idea - give presents on our birthdays to those with whom we share the journey.

So, to start, Lucille Clifton celebrates.

See you tomorrow for another one.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day, dedicated by the World Health Organization to open discussion about mental health issues and needs. This year's theme is "Depression: A Global Crisis."

We are surrounded by people who have invisible illnesses. Whether it's depression or anxiety or an eating disorder or psychosis or addiction or... So many people struggle through this world and we have no way of knowing unless we are told. They have every right to not tell us, but this is a reminder that we must all move through the world with compassion. We don't know what burdens others carry.

That jerk who cut you off in traffic? Maybe they're having a panic attack and need to get to the side of the road. Maybe they are rushing to help a friend. Or maybe they are a jerk. You don't know.

Your co-worker who is glaring at everyone and sighing all the time? Maybe their meds were adjusted and they feel crummy. Maybe they were up half the night with insomnia. Or maybe they're just in a really bad mood. You don't know.

Your family member who hurt your feelings? Maybe they're depressed and aren't as aware of others as usual. Maybe they are afraid because they're hearing voices. Or maybe it's just family politics. You don't know.

This is a call to compassion. This is a call to the kind voice, asking if everything is okay, and then being content if the answer is "yes." This is a call to appropriate boundaries, that we cannot save others but only offer them resources to save themselves. This is a call to helping people get help, recognizing that care is available, acknowledging that mental illness is not a choice but we can choose to try to get better.

This is a call to a kinder world. One where we take a deep breath and remember that we each carry our own burdens.

If you or someone you care about needs mental health assistance, start here. If you or someone you love is suicidal call 1-800-SUICIDE. Get help. The world needs you.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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